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Campus network topology is the network design used in campus area networks (CANs). CANs comprise two or more connected local-area networks (LANs), such as on a school campus, military facility or a corporate campus consisting of a group of buildings. A large enterprise network may include several, distributed CANs.

Campus networks are usually the highest-speed portion of the enterprise network, operating at speeds of 1G to 100G bps. Any type of physical wiring that supports those speeds can be deployed in a campus network topology, including CAT-5 cable and fiber, although it is typically private, meaning it is owned by whatever entity owns the campus.

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Campus networks are usually the highest-speed portion of the enterprise network, operating at speeds of 1G to 100G bps. Any type of physical wiring that supports those speeds can be deployed in a campus network topology, including CAT-5 cable and fiber, although it is typically private, meaning it is owned by whatever entity owns the campus.

The campus network topology must be configured with the needs of the organization it serves in mind. The beauty of the campus network is that it enables different portions of the network to serve different requirements. If one area needs to support high-speed video along with voice, while another needs just enough capacity for corporate email and business applications, the campus network design can be tailored to ensure each area gets the characteristics it requires.

Campus networks typically employ a three-tier network topology that’s common in client-server networks. End user devices connect to switches comprising the bottom tier, the access layer. Access layer switches feed into the second tier, the aggregation layer, sometimes called the distribution layer. At the top is the core layer, where high-speed routers supply network connections and routing services among LANs and to locations outside the CAN.

Another topology option is a two-tier design, typically used for smaller campus networks. In this design, the core and aggregation layers are combined into one layer. In Cisco parlance, this is known as a collapsed core-distribution architecture.

More recently, another form of two-tier architecture has emerged, the leaf-spine topology. The leaf-spine topology was developed to address some of the limitations of the three-tier design and to improve performance by reducing the number of network “hops” between any two devices.

Pica8, for example, has developed software that enables the leaf-spine architecture to be used in campus networks as well as larger enterprise networks. Its PicaPilot technology enables hundreds of switches to appear as a single switch, with one IP address. That makes campus networks far easier to manage, helping to lower costs, while the two-tier design also improves performance and redundancy.